Big night ahead for Gallagher as unbeaten 21-year-old eyes world title shot in Dublin

A shot at the bantamweight belt is at stake at Bellator 204, according to the Irish fighter.

JAMES GALLAGHER CAN take his professional mixed martial arts record to 8-0 this evening when he features on the Bellator 204 card at Sioux Falls in South Dakota, USA.

The fight against promotional debutant Ricky Bandejas (10-1) also marks Gallagher’s debut in the bantamweight division. Having previously competed at featherweight, the 21-year-old has made the additional 10-pound cut to become a contender in the 135-pound weight class.

James Gallagher celebrates his victory James Gallagher celebrates after winning at Bellator 169. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

According to Gallagher, Bellator have promised him that a shot at the bantamweight title will be his reward should he manage to overcome his American opponent tonight.

The future of the bantamweight belt is uncertain as reigning champion Darrion Caldwell has returned to featherweight to take on Noad Lahat in this evening’s main event. Nevertheless, Gallagher insists he’ll be challenging for the strap in Dublin in December.

“If you listen, I say I’m fighting for the belt in December, not that I’m fighting Darrion Caldwell,” he told ESPN. “That’s a big difference. I am 100% down to fight Darrion Caldwell, but I don’t care if he’s there or not. I’m fighting for the belt in December, it’s that simple.

“I don’t care who I fight for the world title. They’re all running their mouths. They’re all talking like they want it. I’m here. And after I win on Friday, I’m showing up in Dublin to fight for the 135-pound belt. Whoever the fuck wants it, let’s go. Anyone.”

A native of Strabane, Gallagher moved to Dublin at the age of 15 to train under John Kavanagh at Straight Blast Gym. He made his professional debut in October 2015 and — following a trio of submission victories — was signed by Bellator, MMA’s second-largest organisation.

Gallagher, who has now fought seven times in his pro career, has particularly excelled in the grappling stakes by finishing all but one of his opponents via submission. However, the youngster has endured a difficult 14-month spell since his last outing.

Riding high after his defeat of Chinzo Machida at Madison Square Garden in June 2017, he was eager to continue his ascent by making a swift return to the cage. However, knee and hand injuries have kept him sidelined until now.

Source: BellatorMMA/YouTube

In an interview with MMAjunkie ahead of tonight’s return to action, Gallagher expressed his gratitude to SBG team-mate Conor McGregor for his support during a difficult period in his young career.

“I see him [McGregor] every day in the gym working hard and he helped me get through it. He helped me prepare for how bad it’s going to be,” Gallagher said.

“He said I would be down and going through those testing times: ‘You’re going to be face down and want to throw everything out the window, but only the best stick it out. You’ve got two options: Either stick it out and do it, or else you don’t.’

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“I stuck it out. I grinned through it and I pushed through the testing times, knowing I’ve seen the bigger picture and knew where my future was going. I just kept looking at that belt.

“I saw my future opponents getting success, but instead of hitting them about it, I took it as motivation. I took inspiration from my opposition. I didn’t want it as much back then as I do now. I was scary back then. When you see me on Friday night, I’m going to be a totally different person and that should be terrifying.”

James Gallagher’s fight against Ricky Bandejas will take place on the main card at Bellator 204, which kicks off at 2am Irish time in the early hours of tomorrow morning. Unfortunately due to the organisation’s lack of a TV deal in Ireland, there’s no legitimate way for viewers on this side of the Atlantic to watch it live.

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Paul Dollery

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